San Gabriel Valley Tribune – National Latino Museum


San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper:

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Locals welcome call for national Latino museum

By James Figueroa, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/05/2011 11:47:57 PM PDT

A presidential commission called Thursday for the creation of a national museum devoted to American Latino history and culture to be located next to the Capitol as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Coinciding with the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the commission submitted a report to the White House and Congress backing such an endeavor.

The proposal for the Smithsonian American Latino Museum drew strong support from both local Latinos and top ranks of the Obama administration, among them interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley.

Many contributions of Latinos, dating back to before the nation’s founding, have never been recognized, Salazar said.

“My own view is America’s strength in the future is dependent upon America being inclusive of all of its people,” he said.

Salazar, one of the highest ranking Hispanics in government, pledged to help raise millions of dollars to privately fund the construction. He said organizers may need to raise more than half the money if the federal budget is a roadblock.

The commission, which included Eva Longoria from TV’s “Desperate Housewives” and producer Emilio Estefan, spent a year hearing comments from more than 100,000 people on the need for such a museum.

They returned with a lengthy report that lays out the contributions of Latinos in the United States and the lack of Latino heritage in other museums.

“Latinos have played a very important role in the development of the nation’s work force and economy,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, who has been involved in the process since the commission formed in 2008.

Elevating recognition of Latino culture through a national museum could help Americans gain an understanding that goes beyond wide-brimmed hats and Cinco de Mayo festivals, local Latinos said.

“We should recognize the contributions of Latinos in general,” said Ana Pescador, the executive director at the Latino Museum of Art, History and Culture in downtown Los Angeles.

Area students often visit the Latino Museum’s tiny building for classwork, one of the few places to find a large amount of information about Latino history, Pescador said.

Greater Los Angeles boasts a few other Latino museums, including La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which recently opened near Los Angeles’ Olvera Street, and the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.

Locally, El Monte boasts La Historia Historical Society museum, which chronicles Latino, Native American and Asian history in El Monte. And San Gabriel Valley-area museums have often held exhibits to recognize the area’s Latino roots.

The Monrovia Historical Museum held a Latino photo exhibit last September, in celebration of Mexico’s independence day, that brought to light several Latino families’ history in the area dating to the 1800s.

“It’s an undiscovered gem. A lot of the history has been passed down orally,” said Rena Delgado, a spokeswoman for the Monrovia Historical Society.

Delgado’s grandparents – whose roots can be traced to Whittier and Texas – were among the Latinos in the U.S. who suppressed their own history and culture in an effort to assimilate.

“They felt we would be ostracized if we were Spanish speakers,” Delgado said. “They really wanted to identify with the American dream.”

Most available information only skims the surface of Latino history in the U.S., said Randy Ertll, the executive director of Pasadena’s El Centro de Accion Social.

“Things are mainly focused on a Hispanic heritage month,” Ertll said. “We need to go beyond that. We need to have more of an in-depth museum to learn what thousands of Latinos have contributed to this country.

“There’s a lot of untold history, hidden history that needs to come out.”

A Latino museum would join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and its planned National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in four years. There has been some hesitance in Congress to add more ethnic museums for fear that they appeal to segregated audiences.

The commission tried to head off such arguments from the start.

“This is not a museum for Latinos. This is a museum that more fully describes what the American story is,” commission chairman Henry R. Munoz III said. “The historical myth of the United States begins with 1776 and the Mayflower, totally ignoring the fact that we were here well before then and have been contributors to the development of this country in every single way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

626-962-8811, ext. 2236

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